IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS, this week’s Golden Globes awards broadcast was its usual sycophantic, self-congratulatory schmooze fest, during which mogul David Geffen was thanked more than God or mothers, and Borat’s Sacha Baron Cohen stole the show with genitalia and fart jokes that had tears running down Mark Wahlberg’s face because he was laughing so hard. But behind the scenes at the dinner tables, as the Hollywood insiders cut into their free-range chicken, Alaskan cod and marinated tenderloin of beef in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, the sharpest knives were being reserved for one of their own, studio boss Brad Grey.
The Paramount Motion Picture Group chairman/CEO should have emerged the object of envy when not one but two of his studio’s films, DreamWorks’ Dreamgirls and Vantage’s Babel, won. Mostly because the studio’s marketing team could quickly go to work plugging the meaningless awards to hype the two films’ bottoming box-office mojo. But instead, Grey was an object of scorn.
It started with the place cards on the two Paramount tables, both positioned prominently, one populated by Dreamgirls’ talent and executives, the other by Babel’s. Place cards? No one could remember a time when they saw this peculiarity at the Golden Globes. But they existed to obviously establish the pecking order of the people attending. “Brad seems very concerned at all occasions exactly where he sits,” one studio insider said to me by way of explanation.
First came Grey’s run-in with Jamie Foxx. The actor hadn’t planned on attending the Golden Globes, because he wasn’t a nominee and was on his way to Europe. But, at the behest of DreamWorks and Paramount, Foxx, at the eleventh hour, flew back to L.A. to introduce a film clip. But Grey decreed the seating plan was already set, preventing Foxx from bringing a guest to the Dreamgirls table. “You don’t do that to someone who’s done you a favor like that,” a source told me.
The next faux pas came when place cards called for Grey to be seated next to Eddie Murphy. But the actor wanted to sit next to Geffen. Janet Hill, the Paramount flack, went into a panic. But Eddie is, well, Eddie (ever the diva, even at this point in his roller-coaster career), so he was immediately accommodated.
As the cameras focused on the Dreamgirls table when the movie won, Grey’s grinning face was positioned right next to Geffen’s, the pic’s producer. (This, after Grey’s unfortunate hire — and just fired — number two, Gail Berman, wanted Jennifer Hudson off the picture. “She didn’t think Jennifer was any good in the dailies,” a source explained to me. Not only is Hudson considered an Oscar shoo-in, she has been receiving standing ovations from moviegoers.)
When it came time for the last Golden Globe to be awarded, for Picture-Drama, Paramount public relations went into another frenzy. Eyewitnesses were agog when Hill, who has considerable experience working for men with big egos (like Harvey Weinstein), ousted two people from the Babel table to make room for Grey so he could get that last-minute camera angle alongside director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Grey was also the only studio boss who went back into the press room and posed with talent. So, when the trades showed up on everyone’s desk the next morning, “I don’t think a photograph existed from the Golden Globes that Brad Grey wasn’t in,” one producer noticed.
Grey’s longtime friendship with Geffen is still chummy as ever — after all, Grey’s studio wildly overpaid to acquire DreamWorks, so why shouldn’t David be thrilled with Brad? But his relationship with DreamWorks’ head, Stacey Snider, has become strained. It didn’t help that, back at both the N.Y. and L.A. Dreamgirls premieres, Grey got up and made a short speech that didn’t go over well. “To be fair to Brad, he did speak for less than 60 seconds on each occasion,” an insider told me. “But, in New York, the entire Viacom board was in attendance, so in that way he felt obliged to be the master of ceremonies for their sake. Which was, um, unfortunate.” I’m told Snider muttered about it afterward.
But Snider was really angry when Grey told reporters that he would now be her boss after Berman was bounced. Grey described his role as “ultimate referee” for the heads of the four creative hubs that he said would now be reporting to him, essentially equating Snider, whose DreamWorks title is co-chairman and CEO, with Scott Aversano, the president of MTV Films/Nickelodeon Movies, and Brad Weston, now the sole president of production at Paramount Pictures, and John Lesher, the president of Paramount Vantage. “Brad made it sound like Stacey, and Scott, and Brad and John were all on an even footing. Of course, that’s not quite accurate, if you read Stacey’s contract,” a source told me. Then there was Grey telling reporters he wanted to model his running of the studio on the way Warner Communications mogul Steve Ross ran his many music divisions. That kind of comparison doesn’t sit well in show biz. The reason is that Ross was a true Hollywood and Wall Street visionary and legend: He took a parking-lot company, turned it into the most successful entertainment corporation of its day, and then transformed it again into the world’s biggest media empire, Time Warner. Grey, on the other hand, was handed Bernie Brillstein’s already successful management/production company, while now he’s a hired hand answerable to Viacom’s Philippe Dauman and Sumner Redstone.
IT MAY ALL SOUND TERRIBLY PETTY, and make no mistake about it — it is. But all this BS is what Hollywood uses as the yardstick to measure the character of its moguls. No one in town forgets that Geffen took Dreamgirls from a Broadway show to Hollywood over a 25-year span. So, David said from the outset of the pic’s awards campaign that he didn’t want to go onstage himself. At the Golden Globes, his pal and Dreamgirls’ producer, Larry Mark, made the walk to the podium. Whereas Grey is Brad Come Lately to the Dreamgirls project, since it was green-lighted by DreamWorks before Paramount even began negotiating to buy the studio. Maybe this wouldn’t matter so much now if it didn’t follow the kinda crummy, sometimes brutal behavior Grey exhibited from the moment he took over. (And that of his subordinate Berman, considered a bitch on wheels by agents, managers, producers, screenwriters and talent, who all retaliated by complaining nonstop to the press about her until she was fired last week.) Grey wasn’t this way when he was still a talent manager: He was viewed as an ambitious but nice guy content to stay behind the scenes, even praised for subtlety and humility. No more. Take what happened to Donald DeLine, one of Hollywood’s most popular veteran executives: As Paramount’s production chief, he was on a London trip when a reporter called to ask how it felt to be replaced by Gail Berman. DeLine said the journalist must be mistaken — but soon found out that he had, in fact, been axed. It was an unnecessary public humiliation.
Now it’s Grey’s turn to be humiliated. With all those lips flapping about his boorish Golden Globes behavior. And all those news stories wondering when, not if, he’ll be fired. (Though I happen to think he’ll stick around for a while.) And Grey himself? He shrugs it off and goes about his business without changing one iota. For example: He actually had the nerve recently to battle hard for credit as one of the producers of the Academy Award contender The Departed, even though it’s a Warner movie and considered direct competition with Dreamgirls and Babel for Best Picture. When the producers didn’t back him, he fumed. Yeah, poor Brad only has that lousy studio job to fall back on. What’s that compared to the priceless value of more awards-season face time?